We all get stressed sometimes. The feeling can be triggered by many situations, such as shopping in a crowded store or trying to fit too many tasks into your day.

You may also experience ongoing stress when dealing with longer-term challenging situations throughout life.

If you’re constantly stressed, it can take a toll on your overall health. It can also make it difficult to feel relaxed or calm.

Guided imagery is a method for managing your stress. It’s a relaxation technique that involves visualizing positive, peaceful settings like a beautiful beach or a peaceful meadow. This technique is also known as visualization or guided meditation.

According to research, guided imagery may help:

  • reduce stress and anxiety
  • promote relaxation
  • ease various symptoms related to stress

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what guided imagery is, its science-backed benefits, and how to do it correctly.

Guided imagery is a type of focused relaxation or meditation. Focused relaxation involves concentrating on a specific object, sound, or experience in order to calm your mind.

In guided imagery, you intentionally think of a peaceful place or scenario. The goal is to promote a calm state through relaxation and mindfulness. The idea is that your body reacts to your own thoughts.

For example, when you think about a stressful situation, your body and mind become tense. Your heart rate and blood pressure might increase, and you may feel jittery and unfocused.

But if you focus your attention on pleasant scenarios, your mind and body tend to relax. You may feel less tightness and tension in your muscles, while your mind might feel calmer and more at ease.

By calming your mind and body, you may be better able to cope with mental, emotional, and physical stress.

According to research, guided imagery may be able to positively affect your health and well-being in several different ways.

Let’s look more closely at what’s known about the possible benefits.

Reduces anxiety and stress

There’s plenty of scientific evidence that shows that guided imagery may help reduce feelings of anxiety and stress.

In a study published in 2014, women with fibromyalgia were divided into two groups. One group practiced guided imagery on a daily basis for a 10-week period, while the other group practiced their usual care routine.

At the end of the study, the women who did guided imagery reported a significant decrease in their feelings of stress, fatigue, pain, and depression.

Another study that was done in 2017 compared the stress-relieving benefits of guided imagery with clinical massage. The study, which involved patients in a progressive care unit, found that 30 minutes of guided imagery had similar positive effects to a 15-minute massage.

A 2018 study also concluded that guided imagery may help decrease pre-surgery anxiety. Similarly, in another 2018 study, guided imagery reduced pretest anxiety in students.

Improves sleep

Anxiety and stress can make it difficult to sleep well. But according to several studies, guided imagery may help improve your sleep.

In the 2017 study mentioned above, the participants who practiced guided imagery also reported that their sleep had improved.

Similarly, a 2015 study involving older adults found that a mindfulness practice, which included guided imagery, may have the ability to improve sleep quality. The researchers speculated that mindfulness meditation improves how your body responds to stress, making it easier to sleep.

Decreases pain

Research has shown that stress has the ability to worsen your perception of pain.

A 2017 review found that guided imagery may help manage pain after orthopedic surgery. Similarly, another study done in 2019 found that guided imagery decreased post-surgery pain in children.

Also, in the 2014 study mentioned earlier, participants reported decreased pain, along with other benefits, like less stress and fatigue.

According to a 2019 study, guided imagery together with progressive muscle relaxation helped ease pain in patients with cancer.

Reduced depression symptoms

According to a 2014 review, depression is often associated with negative mental images. However, the positive images that are created through guided imagery may be able to change this.

In a 2019 study, one week of daily guided imagery was associated with reduced depressive symptoms in people with cancer. The participants also reported reduced pain and less anxiety.

A 2018 study found similar results for depression and anxiety in people receiving hemodialysis.

Guided imagery can be done anytime and anywhere, and it doesn’t require any special equipment. In general, here’s what you need:

  • a quiet spot
  • a comfortable couch, bed, or yoga mat
  • a guided imagery audio recording (optional)
  • headphones (optional)

Guided imagery audio recordings are available on many platforms, including:

Your local bookstore or library may also have guided imagery CDs.

Follow these step-by-step instructions to try guided imagery without an audio recording:

  1. Sit or lie down in a quiet, comfortable area.
  2. Close your eyes. Take several deep breaths. Inhale and exhale deeply and continue to breathe deeply as you continue this relaxation technique.
  3. Imagine a peaceful scene like a lush forest, majestic mountain range, or a quiet, tropical beach.
  4. Think of the details in the scene. Imagine the sounds, scents, and sensations of being in this peaceful, calming place.
  5. Envision a path in your scene. Picture yourself walking along the path, imagining the details and sounds as you walk this path.
  6. Relax in your scene for several minutes. Continue breathing deeply.
  7. After 15 minutes, count to three. Open your eyes.

If you’re new to guided imagery, you may want to try it after doing yoga or progressive muscle relaxation. When your body is relaxed, your mind has an easier time relaxing, too.

These tips may be helpful if you’re just getting started with guided imagery:

  • You can read a script or listen to an audio recording. It’s recommended that you listen to a recording so you can close your eyes while you do this exercise.
  • Choose a quiet area where you’ll be undisturbed.
  • Wear comfortable, loose clothing.
  • Turn off your phone and other electronics. If you’re listening to a recording on your phone, set it to “do not disturb.”
  • Take several deep breaths. Inhale and exhale deeply and then start the audio recording.
  • Continue to inhale and exhale deeply as you follow along with the prompts provided by the audio recording.
  • Don’t worry about how well you’re doing. Relax, don’t try too hard, and let the process happen by itself.
  • Guided imagery takes practice. Start with 5 minutes a day, then increase the time from there.
  • If you have difficulty imagining peaceful settings, look at images or videos on the Internet. Find a soothing scene and pretend you’re there.
  • Record how you feel after guided imagery. As time goes on, you’ll be able to track your stress levels to determine if they’ve improved.

Guided imagery uses the power of your mind to form relaxing, peaceful images that are a blend of your thoughts and senses.

Research has shown that guided imagery can be a helpful technique for helping to reduce:

  • anxiety
  • stress
  • pain
  • depression
  • sleep issues

Although guided imagery has few risks, it may increase feelings of anxiety in some people.

If you experience depressive thoughts, heightened stress, or anxiety with this technique, it’s important to talk with a therapist before continuing.